Fine, Hand-Rolled Cigars Show Their Quality Inside and Out
Smoking a fine cigar can be a rich, rewarding experience. But if you're new to the world of cigars, you might find smoke shops confusing at best and intimidating at worst. With dozens of brands and hundreds of cigars to choose from, where do you begin? Are the most expensive brands always better?
The short answer to this question is no: Price isn't always an indicator of quality. The long answer? Keep reading! We'll fill you in on what exactly makes a premium cigar live up to the name.
What is a Premium Cigar?
Premium cigars are hand-rolled and include three main parts: high-quality filler tobacco, binder tobacco, and wrapper leaf. They have been made by the most skilled torcedores, kept in ideal storage conditions, and aged to perfection.
Premium cigars look smooth and tight, and may feel slightly oily to the touch. (In fact, a little bit of oil in the wrapper is an indication that the cigar has been well humidified, which means a more appealing taste.) By contrast, machine-made cigars that you can pick up at the gas station are made with lesser-quality tobacco and may not be rolled in natural tobacco leaf.
First Impressions Count
When you're evaluating premium smokes, you absolutely can (and should) judge a book by its cover. In addition to being beautiful, collectible works of art, premium cigar boxes can tell you a lot about what awaits you within: the type of wrapper, the way the cigars are packed in the box, and the place where the cigar was produced, to name just a few. (The price is usually noted on the box, too.)
For cigar novices, some of the stamps and markings might be hard to decipher. The most important thing to remember is that boxes do serve as a marketing tool, and their overall appearance can be a good indicator of the cigar's quality.
Know What You're Looking For
The best cigar is the one you enjoy smoking the most. It helps if you know the strength, size, and price of your ideal cigar before you head to the smoke shop.
The size of the cigar determines how long the smoking session will be. If you're smoking a cigar on your lunch break, you may opt for a small cigar, but if you have all day to relax on your deck, you may want a longer-smoking, larger-gauge cigar.
If you're not sure of your preferred strength or flavors, it's a good idea to ask your friendly smoke shop staffer for help. You can also do research by reading cigar forums or publications to find the best-rated smokes. (They're not always the priciest ones!)
The Visual Exam
Once you have a general idea of what you're looking for, it's time to start shopping in earnest. If you're in a smoke shop, start by visually examining the cigar and its construction. The construction actually plays a huge role in the smoke itself, as it's what determines the smoothness of the draw.
With that in mind, look for a cigar that's wrapped smoothly and tightly. The wrapper should be uncracked, without any flakes. Ideally, the veins of the wrapper leaf should be small or nonexistent. In addition to holding the whole shebang together, the wrapper is responsible for anywhere from 60 percent to 90 percent of the cigar's flavor, so make sure you choose wisely. A smaller cigar will glean more of its flavor from its wrapping than a larger cigar will, so consider how much you'd like the wrapper to be profiled in the flavor.
The Physical Exam
You don't want to squeeze your cigar as if it were an avocado you're testing for ripeness, but you do want to gently roll it between your thumb and index finger to test for lumps, softness, or inconsistent filling. Make sure you pick it up in the middle and don't touch the head; remember, someone is going to put their mouth there.
It's not the price. The construction of the cigar determines the smoothness of the draw. It's ideal to have a body that is not too soft or lacking in filling. The quality and aging of the tobacco also play a crucial role. Lastly, finding a small bit of oil in the wrapper leaf typically indicates that the cigar was well humidified, providing a more appealing taste.
Congrats! You've found a beautiful, flavorful premium cigar that fits your preferences and budget. Start out by buying one or two cigars before you invest in a whole box (how you store your cigars is very important). You don't want to get stuck with a box of cigars you'll never smoke. If you do find you enjoy your new smokes, come back to Mushroom New Orleans and pick up some more -- and discover new brands. Cigar smoking is a choose-your-own-adventure deal, and one that yields deeper knowledge and richer experiences with each cigar you try.